Baptists back calls to move beyond blasphemy laws in the UK

By staff writers
January 21, 2008

Senior Baptist theologians have joined other church figures and civil rights groups in calling for an end to the blasphemy laws in Britain, which are now seen by a wide cross-section of the public as an unjust anachronism.

The former Archbishop of canterbury, Lord Carey, the retired Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia are among those who have backed moves for the end of blasphemous libel' as a criminal offence in the UK.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, a secularist, has been leading moves towards a change of the law in the House of Commons.

Now the Baptist Times newspaper reports that senior figures in the Baptist movement in the UK share these concerns.

The Rev Sian Murray Williams, tutor at Bristol Baptist College, said the blasphemy law was a means of controlling those who disagreed with Established religion.

She declared: "The provisions of the blasphemy law were designed to prevent giving offence to members of the state Church. As a dissenting Baptist, I'm wary of any law which shores up the privileged position of the Church. The right to religious freedom and to the expression of faith, Christian or otherwise, is now protected by other legal provision."

Added Ms Williams, whose husband Stuart Murray has written extensively on post-Christendom: "I think that the law is not only anachronistic but is unjust in a religiously plural society and should be repealed."

Her view is echoed by the Rev Dr Nicholas Wood, director of the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent's Park College. He said that the law is outdated and "needs thorough revision if not abolition".

Wood added: "Liberty of religion and freedom of conscience should be key elements of a Baptist approach to such matters, while proper sensitivity to the feelings of all members of the community should be appropriately safeguarded by laws in relation to incitement to hatred or violence."

Meanwhile Dr Nigel Wright, principal of Spurgeon's College, said the current blasphemy laws were "impossible to defend".

But the Baptist Times said he warned, "We also need to learn as a culture how to engage in intelligent and civil debate. It would be a pity if tidying up a piece of outmoded legislation led to the idea that nothing is sacred."

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.